Shriver Center expert champions plan to boost autism services

By Tom Lyons

Commonwealth Medicine, UMass Medical School

April 05, 2013

The Massachusetts Autism Commission issued a report last week calling for the commonwealth to take “broad and ambitious” steps to improve services and support for the estimated 75,000 people in Massachusetts with autism.

Amy Weinstock, director of the Autism Insurance Resource Center located at UMass Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, served on the commission and said the report’s comprehensive recommendations will serve an important purpose.

“The commission’s charge was very expansive and we really wanted to take a holistic approach evaluating current services, identifying gaps and making recommendations for improvement,” Weinstock said. “I think the recommendations in this report represent a real blueprint for Massachusetts and, when adopted, will extend the state’s status as a national leader in addressing the needs of residents and families affected by autism.”

Among the many findings of the report, several critical needs were identified, including:

· The need for a single entity to provide comprehensive information on services and support available to autistic residents;

· The need to improve access to mental health services, and to tailor those services to the diverse needs of residents on the autism spectrum;

· The need to change eligibility standards for adult services, focusing on functional ability rather than the current IQ standards;

· The need to improve employment, housing and case management services for adult residents with autism; and

· The need to establish and maintain consistent, statewide data collection on the number of people with autism in Massachusetts.

Established in April 2010 as the Governor’s Special Commission Relative to Autism, the goal of the commission was to examine the needs of autistic residents, both children and adults, and to make recommendations for a comprehensive, statewide approach to improve services.

Massachusetts is considered a leader among states in providing services to people with disabilities and has taken a number of steps in recent years to improve health care and educational services for people with autism. In 2010, the state passed a law that required Massachusetts health insurers to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder.

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